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ACTS teaches job skills at fruit stand

Joe Martin, left and Noah Blakely staff the ACTS fruit stand in front of The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce. It is a fundraiser for a mission trip in August.

Joe Martin, left and Noah Blakely staff the ACTS fruit stand in front of The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce. It is a fundraiser for a mission trip in August. Photo by Neita Cecil.

A fruit stand run by ACTS (Acclaiming Christ Through Sports) is not only raising money for an upcoming mission, but is teaching kids business skills and a work ethic.

Open since late June in the parking lot of The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce, the ACTS fruit stand is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Helping staff it are mostly older kids — high school and college age — who are part of the leadership program through ACTS, said ACTS founder Joe Martin.

Noah Blakely, 21, is such a leader. He’s helped staff the fruit stand all summer, sometimes holding down the fort by himself. Another key helper this summer has been Shayley Williams, 17.

“This summer she’s been primarily running the booth and we have some leadership students helping out also,” Martin said.

Blakely and Martin usually source the fruit, which includes fresh cherries, honey, canned fruit from Muirhead Canning Co. and bottled water.

Blakely is putting in a lot of hours, but part of the proceeds of the stand will help him pay for a nine-month mission in San Francisco, he will serve an internship as an urban missionary with an organization called City Impact. A group from ACTS is also going down to a mission there in August.

Martin said the fruit stand is a way of implementing the new slogan of ACTS: Growing kids to Greatness.

Martin said he’s talked to business owners in The Dalles and heard their frustrations about not finding young people with decent work ethics or problem-solving skills. The fruit stand serves as an incubator to help kids learn responsibility and think for themselves.

“Really, this isn’t as much about the fundraiser as it is about teaching them job skills and leadership skills,” Martin said. Kids do most of the work in the stand, from handling the sale itself to deciding what improvements to make next year.

This is the fourth year for the stand, and it has evolved from a simple canopy to an enclosed stand, with attractive displays. More changes are planned for next year to better track sales and learn what sells better, and even what days typically have the most sales.

In a practical application of the notion of growing kids to greatness, Martin is letting kids learn and figure things out on their own.

They need to learn things like “how to keep the fruit cold and how to think logically about business operations,” Blakely said.

“It helps them develop that mindset, ‘I’m in charge of this and I’m learning how to do this.’ Who knows if that kid becomes a business owner in The Dalles?” Blakely said.

Martin said he purposely lets kids figure things out for themselves. “Part of the growing kids to greatness is to put them in situations that are really beyond them and challenging them and putting them in situations where they have to problem solve, because they’re so used to being told what to do.”

He’ll even have to silence older leaders who try to help younger kids.

“I have to constantly tell our leaders, ‘don’t tell them.’”

The initial reaction to this circumstance is frustration, Martin admits, “because they want to be told. It’s very comforting to be told.” But then, suddenly, comes mastery of the situation and with it, a sense of accomplishment.

Blakely has seen that ah-ha moment.

“They get this sense of ownership over their work ethic and they take more pride in their work.” And because they came to the realization themselves, it wasn’t “a foreign concept. It was organic to them.”

It’s not like Martin and older leaders just let kids flail around too long. When they see something about to go sideways, they’ll ask a leading question that might have a clue in it.

Planning for the fruit stand began in spring, when a group of six leaders started meeting to discuss ideas, Martin said.

“One of those girls stepped up in a really big way and got a bin of cherries donated by her uncle,” Blakely said. “I could see the pride in her eyes: ‘I helped the fruit booth along.’”

Another part of the expectations of working at the fruit stand is that kids will show up wearing their ACTS T-shirt, which is essentially their work uniform.

“That’s a job skill: showing up in your uniform,” Martin said. “If they show up without it at the stand or any other ACTS event, Martin sends them home to get it.

While Blakely said their prices are as good as anywhere for fresh fruit, they had one customer try to tell them their prices were too high. Martin said that was simply a teaching moment for how to deal with customers professionally in situations like that.

Another way kids are being helped is that it gives them an appreciation for fresh fruit, something they may not have had much of before. Martin said studies show kids exposed to fresh fruit show an interest in eating healthier.

Martin founded ACTS in 1988 to present the Gospel to non-churched kids and their families in a comfortable setting. As the name implies, sports activities are a mainstay of the program, but it also now includes mission and leadership work.

For more information, visit actsint.org or call 541-298-4277.

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